Special/Medical Waste

Definition of Regulated Medical Waste
Managing Regulated Medical
OSHA Regulations
Statutes, Regulations and Guidelines
More Information


Definition of Regulated Medical Waste

In Tennessee, medical waste is considered a Special Waste, which is a solid waste that is either difficult or dangerous to manage and may include. Medical waste means the following solid wastes:

  • Wastes generated by hospitalized patients who are isolated to protect others from communicable diseases.
  • Cultures and stocks of infectious agents, including specimen cultures from medical and pathological laboratories, cultures and stocks of infectious agents from research and industrial laboratories, wastes from the production of biologicals, discarded live and attenuated vaccines, and culture dishes and devices used to transfer, inoculate, and mix cultures.
  • Waste human blood and blood products such as serum, plasma, and other blood components.
  • Pathological wastes (i.e., tissues, organs, body parts, and body fluids) that are removed during surgery and autopsy.
  • All discarded sharps (e.g., hypodermic needles, syringes, pasteur pipettes, broken glass, scalpel blades) used in patient care or which have come into contact with infectious agents during use in medical, research, or industrial laboratories.
  • Contaminated carcasses, body parts, and bedding of animals that were intentionally exposed to pathogens in research, in the production of biologicals, or in the in vivo testing of pharmaceuticals.
  • The following wastes from patients known to be infected with blood-borne disease: Contaminated wastes from surgery and autopsy (e.g., soiled dressings, sponges, drapes, lavage tubes, drainage sets, underpads, surgical gloves).
  • Wastes from medical, pathological, pharmaceutical, or other research, commercial, or industrial laboratories that were in contact with infectious agents (e.g., specimen containers, slides and cover slips, disposable gloves, lab coats, aprons).
  • Wastes that were in contact with the blood of patients undergoing hemodialysis, including contaminated disposal equipment and supplies such as tubing, filters, disposable sheets, towels, gloves, aprons, and lab coats.
  • Discarded equipment and parts that were used in patient care, medical and industrial laboratories, research, and in the production and testing of certain pharmaceuticals and that may be contaminated with infectious agents.

Managing Regulated Medical Waste

Waste Evaluation Application

If you generate and want to process or dispose of medical waste, you must make application to the Commissioner for a waste evaluation. Also, if you generate and wish to process or dispose of medical wastes, which are not subject to applicable regulations, you must also make application to the Commissioner for waste evaluation, unless the Commissioner determines it is not necessary. The application must be on a form provided by the Department and completed according to specified instructions.

Off-Site Processing or Disposal of Medical Waste

If you generate and have medical waste processed or disposed of at an off-site facility, you must annually recertify the accuracy of the information, certifying that there has been no change in the waste stream or the process generating the waste since the original special waste approval was granted; and submit all recertifications as required.

The approval will specify the management conditions deemed necessary to prevent or minimize potential adverse impacts to public health, and the environment in order to promote safe and efficient facility operation. Failure to meet the required management conditions is unlawful disposal.

You may be required to keep records on the receipt and management of certain special wastes. Copies of special waste approvals shall be kept by the operator, which the facility has accepted into the landfill and all recertifications submitted by generators of such waste.

Special Waste Approval

Persons who wish to dispose of special (medical) waste in a permitted landfill or have the special waste processed in a permitted processing facility require a special waste approval from the Tennessee Division of Solid Waste Management (SWM). Persons applying for a special waste approval must:

  • Locate a landfill or processing facility that will accept the special (medical) waste and obtain approval from the Division of SWM prior to disposal or processing of the special waste.
  • Submit a completed Waste Evaluation Fee Worksheet application and the proper fee.
  • Submit a completed Special Waste Data Collection Form with required attachments.

Effect of a Special Waste Approval

A special waste approval does not grant any right of disposal of the medical waste at the designated facility. The operator may refuse to accept any special waste even if it has been approved by the Commissioner to be disposed of at his facility.

Special Waste Variances and Waivers

After public notice and an opportunity for public comment, any standard, or requirement in these rules may be waived by the Commissioner if the operator can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the Commissioner, that the standard is inapplicable, inappropriate, or unnecessary to his facility, or that it is equaled in effect by alternative standards or requirements.

Medical Waste Management Requirements

  • Sharps must be securely packaged in puncture-proof containers prior to landfilling.
  • Cultures and stocks of infectious agents and associated biologicals must not be landfilled unless and until they have been treated (e.g., autoclaved, incinerated) to render them non-infectious.
  • Human blood and blood products and other body fluids may not be landfilled. This restriction applies to bulk liquids or wastes containing substantive amounts of free liquids, but does not apply to simply blood-contaminated materials such as emptied blood bags, bandages, or “dirty” linens.
  • Recognizable human organs and body parts may not be landfilled.
  • Dead animals may not be disposed of in a Class II, Class III or Class IV disposal facility except as may be specifically approved in writing by the Commissioner; or be disposed of in Class I disposal facilities only if managed as follows:
    • Dead animals must be covered upon receipt with a minimum of two feet of cover and placed in an area which will receive additional waste and cover within 48 hours; or covered with three feet of compacted cover soil if placed in an area which will not receive additional waste and cover within 48 hours.
    • Dead animals must not be disposed of in an area of a landfill which will not accommodate a minimum of five feet of depth from the finished landfill surface elevation when final cover has been put in place.
    • Dead animals must be distributed for disposal over the landfill area in such a manner as to minimize the occurrences of future sinks and depressions in the final landfill cover caused by carcass decay.

Veterinary Facilities ­ Disposal of Dead Animals and Waste

Veterinary facilities shall dispose of dead animals, biological waste, and medical waste (including sharps) in a prompt, sanitary, and aesthetic manner.

  • The disposal of dead animals, biological waste, and medical waste (including sharps) shall comply with all federal, state, county and municipal laws, ordinances, and regulations.
  • With the exception of large animals, all dead animals on the premises shall be refrigerated.
  • Dead animals not claimed within forty-eight (48) hours by the owner or agent shall be disposed at the discretion of the veterinarian.

OSHA Regulations HERC OSHA State Page

In addition to the state medical waste environmental regulations there are some Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules that apply to medical/infectious waste. Tennessee is one of 21 states operating an approved occupational safety and health program. This program is operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. OSHA rules (Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens Standards) impact various aspects of medical/infectious waste, including management of sharps, requirements for containers that hold or store medical/infectious waste, labeling of medical/infectious waste bags/containers, and employee training.  These requirements can be found in the HERC section entitled OSHA Standards for Regulated Waste.

Statutes, Regulations and Guidelines

Rules Of Tennessee Department Of Environment And Conservation Division Of Solid Waste Management Chapter 1200-1-7 Solid Waste Processing And Disposal


Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste Management

More Information

None located.

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